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French troops capture Timbuktu airport

Parts of Mali scorched by militants.

Parts of Mali scorched by militants.

MALI — French-led troops in Mali have seized the airport in Timbuktu, as they move to capture the historic city from militant Islamists, officials say.

The troops encountered no resistance as they headed towards the city, where a building housing ancient manuscripts has reportedly been set on fire.

French and Malian troops have been pushing north in their offensive against Islamist rebels.

On Saturday, they seized Gao, the most populous city in northern Mali.

Thousands of people in Gao poured out into the streets to celebrate the arrival of the troops.

Islamists seized the north of the country last year, but have been losing ground since French forces launched an operation earlier this month.

Most militants appear to have fled into desert hideouts.

The advance comes as African Union leaders are meeting to discuss sending more troops to Mali.

“We control the airport at Timbuktu,” a senior Malian army officer told AFP. “We did not encounter any resistance.”

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard told the BBC that “substantial airpower” had been used to support about 1,000 French and 200 Malian forces in their offensive against the militants in Timbuktu.

“Overnight, the French have retaken access points to Timbuktu,” he said.

“The terrorist forces have refused all contact with us. We think they have either gone back into Timbuktu to blend in with the local population or they have fled the city into the north of the country.”

Ground forces units and paratroopers have been despatched around Timbuktu and it is believed that these troops are cautiously trying to find a way into the city.

“We are going to liberate Timbuktu with the Malians very shortly,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. (BBC)

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